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Ahead of the teachers, from upper primary on

Fourth and fifth-year pupils at Currie High (spoken to in separate year groups of boys and girls) say they are usually ahead of the sex education they are being taught, from upper primary on.

This is in terms of sexual knowledge, if not experience (the girls mostly adding the "emotional" and "relationship" aspects too).

However, they rate sexual and relationships education, and SHARE materials in particular, fairly highly.

They have all picked up knowledge from the media, parents and peers. The girls learn a lot from magazines ("Trouble pages and relationships, that's all that's in them!"); the boys tend to learn more from their peers.

Both boys and girls talk with confidence about condoms. S4 and S5 boys thought condom skills should be introduced earlier, perhaps in S2, "depending on maturity". They say S4 is "definitely too late for most".

The girls feel the condoms used in class are "too old" or "old-fashioned and out of date".

Most of the pupils regard information about sexually-transmitted diseases as an important part of their education, and it was the single most important part for the boys.

The boys are more positive than the girls about using video materials. They consider them "more real and memorable than reading or listening". The girls feel they are old-fashioned and out of date ("They were made before we were born") and this lessens their impact. The more contemporary the materials, the more seriously they would be taken, they say.

All the groups are generally positive about learning negotiating skills, though the girls often say it is "common sense" and "in a lot of TV programmes anyway".

They all prefer SRE classes to be mixed gender for most of the time and prefer having teachers of both genders at all stages throughout the course.

The boys feel there are adequate opportunities for discussion in SRE classes but the girls do not, especially the S5 group. They say "much more discussion" is needed, adding: "There's too much written and visual."

A significant number talk of "too much repetition" in personal and social education classes - "especially with bullying" - and not enough time given to SRE. "You don't get bullying in S5, so more about sex would be more relevant," says one pupil.

The S5 girls are particularly keen to develop their peer work to include SRE. "We'd do peer mediation for sex. We do it for drugs." they say. "We'd know how to do it. We could talk to S2s in a way teachers couldn't. They'd listen to us more and it wouldn't be heavy. We'd have a laugh with them too."

Two consistent themes emerge across all the groups of S4 and S5 girls and boys. While they accept that teachers have an important role to play, they feel much more comfortable with outsiders teaching SRE and nearly all prefer younger deliverers.

They all feel teachers talk about them in the staffroom and so they do not like to talk or ask about things that might be repeated.

"You don't want to reveal yourself too much to teachers," says one pupil.

"Outsiders are better because they don't know us and we don't know them.

It's easier to talk.

"You don't feel comfortable talking to teachers. It would better if the majority came from outside.

"You want somebody to understand rather than judge. You do feel teachers are judging you."

Some did not like teachers talking about sex at all and many thought "older" teachers did not really know about sex. "Younger teachers or younger outsiders, yes, because they're more up to date with what we think."

If they had a significant problem or issue related to sex or SRE, none of them would approach a teacher, they say. They might go first to a parent, sibling or friend.

The idea of a young person's health clinic in school, which is being mooted by some sexual health experts, does not appeal to them. Most would go to an outside clinic if they felt they couldn't go to a family doctor, they say.

The importance of safe and caring relationships is included throughout the discussions. Marriage, they say, should only be promoted as one option. Not enough time is given to same-sex relationships, say both boys and girls, and they are quite adamant that teachers should be impartial on such matters.

Most of the pupils feel they want to be more involved in SRE, whether in class discussions, peer mediation or in planning classes. They all see SRE as an important part of their education, and were able to talk comfortably and openly about sex issues and relationships. This in itself was an impressive recommendation for the SRE curriculum.

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